Currently playing (in the Phoenix area) at the Scottsdale Harkins Shea
“The Mission” is a documentary about a tragic and preventable event. In 2018, an evangelical adventure-seeker decided to reach for his life’s dream. He want to ‘spread the Gospel’ to one of the only places in the world which had never been reached by the Western World. His motives were pure, but his methods were a little suspect. The outcome was inevitable. His desire to share the word of ‘Eternal Life’ — led to his ultimate death.
John Chau had grown up with an American mother and a Chinese immigrant father. He and his friends in high school were very rooted in their Christian faith. They all wanted to have the Truth (as they understood it) to be carried to every nook and cranny on the Earth. They read up on past missionary work that had been done — the outreach to indigenous people who had no, or limited, contact with outsiders.
One good friend was Jimmy Shaw and they knew of the glory of evangelization. They also heard about the dangers. In the 1960’s a group of believers took a plane into a very remote region in Ecuador. They landed, and damaged the plane. They met some people from the tribe they were there to meet. At first it all seemed to go well. But the tribal elders sent warriors to protect the people from the outsiders. They did not survive.
The final destination for John Chau is the last remote area on Earth. In the India Ocean, there is a place called North Sentinel Island. Here is a place that is pretty well untouched by any outsiders. Back in the 1970’s, and Indian government office made a visit to the island. His name is T.N. Pandit, and is one of the few people to attempt to make contact with the Sentinelese people. His visit did not last too long, and he knew when it was time to go.
Another explorer and adventurer was named Adam Goodheart. He also made an attempt to make contact. He and his crew were offshore from a beach. The tribal community was not having any of it, and all he was able to do was come close to the shore. He also left quickly when the Sentinelese brought out the bows and arrows. He was able to get some of the pictures of the tribe on the beach. They did not look impressed.
John went to Oral Roberts University to study. He was encouraged by a few of the people on the staff. He told of his desire to visit the one place on Earth that never was evangelized. A staff member, named Bobby Parks became a mentor and helped John to flesh out his ideas for an eventual journey.
In the meanwhile, John was hired by the National Park Service in a place in California. He was able to improve his outdoor survival skills. His boss there, named Cassie Simons, knew he had dreams of grand adventures. Another woman co-worker, named Arin Okada, was impressed with John’s ability to hike and swim and live off the land.
John kept a detailed diary of what would become his ultimate plan. With only a few close friends supporting him, he made his major goal a reality. North Sentinel Island was off-limits by the Indian government. It was forbidden to travel there, much less attempt to land and make contact. It was even more illegal to plan a trip to get there and stay. All the history that was known of the Sentinelese people showed that they would not welcome anybody.
There was an evangelical outreach group called All Nations. Led by Pam Arlund, this group believed that John Chau might be able to succeed where everyone else had failed. John furiously wrote all of his notes and made his plans to find a boat to bring him to the island. The boat captain was paid under-the-table. The crew set off to North Sentinel Island, with John on board. He brought a kayak so he could get to shore.
John made one trip in the kayak to meet the ‘unsaved people’. The tribal people on the shoreline were not happy to see John, or anyone else invading their territory. A young boy took his bow and arrow and shot it right into John’s Bible. That was enough to scare him back into swimming back to the boat. But he knew he wanted to keep true to his internal goal. He needed to get back and save these people. That night he wrote that he had a vision he would be accepted.
But John Chau went to swim back to North Sentinel Island the next day. He was never heard from again. Later, a plane flew over and was said to have discovered a body floating near the shoreline. It was riddled with arrows. His belief and spirit ran into the tribe’s desire to not allow any foreigner to come onto the island. His ideals were dashed by the reality of death.
John Chau left his diary, and his father Patrick Chau allowed the public to see it. Patrick also wrote a letter in which he scolded the other people who had supported John. He felt they knew that John was headed into a death trap. But the people who helped and encouraged John on his trip did nothing to temper his fervor. This act of trespassing into a forbidden land would never end well. It did not end well for John.
“The Mission” is a well-researched and detailed exploration of how this unfortunate event came about. The words of John Chau (read by a voice actor Lawrence Kao) made a plea that the guy was sincere but not really understanding what he was attempting to do.
The words of Patrick Chau (read by voice actor David Shih) are the anguished cried of a father who has lost a son. But he has many sharp words for the people who made John think there would no consequences to this attempt to do the impossible.
There are many people who have been interviewed for the documentary. Most of them have been mentioned above. There is also a talk with Dan Davis, former high school teacher of John.
Another interview is with Daniel Everett. He was a former evangelist who made contact with a remote tribe in the Amazon. His experience gave him a sour outlook on any type of ‘extreme evangelization. Along with Patrick Chau – they feel that John was used by other groups with some ulterior motives.
“The Mission” could be viewed from many angles, either to support this type of work — or to condemn it. But the bottom line for John Chau was that his life was taken – with little or nothing to show for it.
Directed by: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss
Cinematography: Thorsten Thielow
Edited by: Aaron Wickenden
Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Production companies: National Geographic Documentary Films, Lightbox, Mile End Films
Distributed by: Picturehouse
Release date: November 3, 2023
Length: 103 minutes
MPAA rating: not rated